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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Simplistic vs. Complexistic

In my recent post, The Modern Intellectual's Virtue of Complexity, I claimed that social scientists, who reject reason and principles, have an affinity for complexity, while physical scientists, who tend to embrace reason and the scientific method, regard simplicity or increased generalization as a virtue. If one rejects reason or regards it as "limited", he must regard any integration of percepts into concepts and principles as hopelessly naive. Such a doctrine gives rise to the anti-concept: "simplistic", which is used to smear anyone who offers a clear and easy answer to a problem (because it is clear and easy).

I also argued that because the physical sciences deal with deterministic phenomena, the modern assault on reason and rational epistemology has had relatively less of a destructive impact. Conversely, the social sciences, which deal with human beings and therefore volition, bare the scar tissue of the philosopher's relentless assault on reason as can be seen in the convoluted and downright bizarre theories routinely offered by these disciplines. I offer the success of modern technology derived from physics, chemistry, and biology as against the "triumphs" of modern economists, psychologists, and philosophers as proof of which approach works. Think Galileo, Newton, and Darwin versus Robert Reich, Cass Sunstein, and Paul Krugman.

An interesting real life example of these ideas played out recently. According to
Mark Morano, a recent editorial by Rudy Baum, the editor-in-chief of the American Chemical Society, claiming that “the science of anthropogenic climate change is becoming increasingly well established” and that the "consensus" view was growing "increasingly difficult to challenge, despite the efforts of diehard climate-change deniers” has caused a spirited revolt against Baum by skeptical, outraged chemists worldwide. Quoting Morano:
The editorial was met with a swift, passionate and scientific rebuke from Baum's colleagues. Virtually all of the letters published on July 27 in castigated Baum's climate science views. Scientists rebuked Baum's use of the word “deniers” because of the terms “association with Holocaust deniers.” In addition, the scientists called Baum's editorial: “disgusting”; “a disgrace”; “filled with misinformation”; “unworthy of a scientific periodical” and “pap.”
Morano quotes dozens of scathing letters calling Baum to the carpet for making such an absurd claim. They are all so good, all I can say is read the link for more details.

One of the scientists cited in Morano's article is Dr. Will Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics at Princeton, who
was fired by Gore in 1993 for "failing to adhere to Gore's scientific views". Happer recently offered this brilliant testimony to the U.S. Senate and reading it is truly a breath of fresh air. After reading it, I was tempted to write a post titled "Global Warming, RIP", and all I can do is offer him the highest compliment possible - it is truly "simplistic."

Now let's transition to the social sciences as briefly as possible. This
article discussed recent polls that show Americans are "cooling" on global warming.
Here's what Gallup found: The number of Americans who say the media have exaggerated global warming jumped to a record 41 percent in 2009, up from 35 percent a year ago. The most marked increase came among political independents, whose ranks of doubters swelled from 33 percent to 44 percent. Republican doubters grew from 59 percent to 66 percent, while Democratic skeptics stayed at around 20 percent.

What's more, fewer Americans believe the effects of global warming have started to occur: 53 percent see signs of a hotter planet, down from 61 percent in 2008. Global warming placed last among eight environmental concerns Gallup asked respondents to rank, with water pollution landing the top spot.
In light of all the facts cited above, from prominent scientists revolting against the global warming orthodoxy based on experimental data and logic to polls showing that Americans increasingly think it is a hoax or at least not significant relative to their livelihood, do you think intellectuals on the Left might reconsider their position?
Ask Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, why increasing numbers of Americans dispute global warming and place the economy ahead of the environment, and he'll say those findings are wrong.

"I don't accept their premise. I think the Gallup Poll is mistaken," said Weiss, whose organization will send its chief executive officer, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, to Monday's clean energy confab. "I would want to look at their questions to see how they got to this place."
Keep in mind, this is a man who is not skeptical of computer climate models that attempt to predict the earth's temperature in one hundred years but is intensely skeptical of a Gallup Poll. More likely, as Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out:
...the planet's average temperature hasn't risen since 1997, despite a 5 percent gain in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the same period. Twelve years doesn't make for a long-term trend, Ebell said, but every year that goes by with no increase in average temperatures makes it harder to assert the climate is sensitive to carbon dioxide.

"I think there's a huge amount of skepticism among the public. They've heard all these claims, and now they've been informed that there isn't any recent warming," Ebell said. "The public, without having a lot of information about it, is pretty astute. I think the alarmists are having a hard time making the case for global warming simply because reality is against them and the public has figured it out."
Sounds reasonable, right? Not if you are Senator Harry Reid.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., responded that the science showing the greenhouse effect on Earth's climate is solid. He pointed to pictures from Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, which reveal the virtual disappearance of a glacier in the past 35 years.
Let's see - Professor Happer's explanation of the causal effects of CO2 on the earth's climate versus pictures of a glacier from Mark Begich....I'm going to go with Happer. But let us not forget the economists:

Worse still, agreed Reid and Weiss, eschewing environmental policies hurts the economy. Prominent venture capitalists and executives from Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric say investing in green energy will boost the economy, creating millions of high-tech jobs. Even a policy as simple as retrofitting existing buildings and constructing new buildings according to green standards would bolster the construction sector, as well as reduce waste and pollution, Reid said.

"The country that makes the clean energy technologies of the future is going to be the one that dominates the world economy," Weiss said.

Ok, so economists think that the country that pays more for "clean" energy rather than less for uh, "dirty" energy that has no discernible effect on anything is going to dominate the world economy? I'll have to email Robert Reich or Paul Krugman to explain that one to me. However, I will point out Reid's flagrant commission of the broken window fallacy in claiming that "retrofitting" buildings will somehow help the economy - a claim logically equivalent to suggesting that we blow up the United States periodically to help the economy - a claim that I have debunked countless times [1, 2] .

Unfortunately, we haven't heard from all the social scientists yet. What do psychologists have to say? According to an article titled,
Psychological Barriers Hobble Climate Action:
Psychological barriers like uncertainty, mistrust and denial keep most Americans from acting to fight climate change, a task force of the American Psychological Association said on Wednesday.
But, not to worry. The psychologists have identified why humans are so inept at assimilating leftist propaganda.

Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior, the task force found.

But habits can be changed, especially if changing saves money and people are quickly made aware of it. People are more likely to use energy-efficient appliances if they get immediate energy-use feedback, the task force said. [emphasis mine]

Now some of you "simple minded" members of the "anti-reform mobs" may be tempted to inquire further as to the nature of habit changing "energy use feedback". But, I say, as long as whatever they do results in "pro-environment" behavior, I'm all for it.

And anyway, they have more mundane methods:
It identified other areas where psychology can help limit the effects of climate change, such as developing environmental regulations, economic incentives, better energy-efficient technology and communication methods. [emphasis mine]
Did I miss the section on "developing environmental regulations" in psychology class?

I must not be very smart, but I guess I rather be simplistic than complexistic.


garret seinen said...

Good one Doug.

A point - an evader can only evade the truth. Evading a falsehood is just plain sensible and can't be called an evasion. Hence, I'd say the deniers are the believers in AGW.

I don't know if you've checked out the 'simplistic' Joanne Nova, http://joannenova.com.au/global-warming/ and her Skeptics Handbook but I think she's put forth the most brilliant argument. The quote, "The climate is complex, but the only thing that matters here is whether adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will make the world much warmer.
If carbon dioxide is not a significant cause, then carbon sequestration, cap-and-trade, emissions trading, and the Kyoto agreement are a waste of time and money. All of them divert resources away from things that matter— like finding a cure for cancer...."
Says it all to me.

C. August said...

Thanks for pointing to the Happer testimony. It's just phenomenal.

The Rat Cap said...


"An evader can only evade the truth. Evading a falsehood is just plain sensible and can't be called an evasion. Hence, I'd say the deniers are the believers in AGW."

Yes! The onus is on the alarmists to prove their case which they have not. To call rational skeptics "deniers" is a vicious smear and a total inversion of logic.

Thanks for the link - I will check out. Her comment which you quote is right on and one of the points that Happer makes in his testimony. He explains that CO2 can only affect temperature so much. He says:

"Carbon dioxide is a bit player. There is little argument in the scientific community that a direct effect of doubling the CO2 concentration will be a small increase of the earth’s temperature -- on the order of one degree. Additional increments of CO2 will cause relatively less direct warming because we already have so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it has blocked most of the infrared radiation that it can. It is like putting an additional ski hat on your head when you already have a nice warm one below it, but you are only wearing a windbreaker. To really get warmer, you need to add a warmer jacket."

He completely debunks the idea that it can cause much of a difference and argues why it might actually be beneficial.

Of course, this is exactly what so many miss. Even if you could prove that CO2 is increasing the temperature you must ask "so what?" and if it even matters in terms of being "bad" then ask "what is the best way to deal with it?" which is a totally separate question from the science. In others, "warming" does not imply the necesity of a global statist dictatorship - it is even more of an argument for freedom and capitalism.

So, it's far from clear that it is happening AND if it is then it may be happening on a very small scale AND in fact, may just benefit us AND in any case, freedom and markets is the best way for humans to adapt and to have enough wealth and capital to solve problems of this magnitude - a point that Dr. Reisman has made eloquently and that I blogged about recently.

Thanks as always for your great comments.

The Rat Cap said...


I agree. Happer just knocks it out of the park. A must read.


Michael Labeit said...

Surely though the charge of "simplistic" has its purposes elsewhere. A theory can be false or lacking because it is simplistic. Yes, no?

The Rat Cap said...


I originally thought "Simplistic", in the sense of "lacking an acknowledgment of important factors", was a "valid" use of this concept and it tripped me up for a while when I was writing this. But upon further review, I concluded it is not valid because "simplistic" used in this way is equivalent to "incomplete" or "wrong" due to a lack of integration. If a theory lacks important factors then it is not "simplistic", it is incomplete. The usage of the term "simplistic" conflates the concept of "simple" with "wrong" which is why I believe AR regarded it as an anti-concept. In other words, it smears someone who is "simple" (in a good way - they think in principle) with one who is stupid, ignorant, wrong, etc. and tends to "obliterate" the concept of integration or thinking in principle.

Let me know if that helps.

Michael Labeit said...

Yes, *that* connotation of simplistic is the one I've always been accustomed to - as "incomplete." Ok.

"Incomplete" seems to be an appropriate replacement.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks for the link to Happer's testimony. It is truly out of the ballpark.

The Rat Cap said...


I'm glad you found it as enlightening as I did. With all of the inane bombast around this issue, it was so pleasant to just hear reasoning for a change!


Feralandroid said...

I know this post is 2 years old, but I have a question. How do you respond to critics when they bring up Happer works for a company sponsored by Exxon: http://www.tfigblog.com/the_future_is_green/2009/03/more_co2.html